The Perfect Weekend in Zurich

Three days might just be enough time to sample the delights Zurich has to offer. Take the Polybahn up to ETH University’s terrace for its vistas overlooking the city. Explore Lake Zurich, take a swim in a riverside badi, grab a beer at Zurich’s oldest preserved pub, taste its world-famous chocolate, visit an art museum, and calorie-splurge on traditional Swiss cuisine.

Limmatquai 144, 8001 Zürich, Switzerland
The terrace at ETH Zurich—where Einstein was an alum—lords high above the city for catch-your-breath views beyond to the lake and the Alps. A number of trams will take you to the terrace, but the most fun way to get there is on the fire-engine red Polybahn, one of only two funiculars left in the city, and the most conveniently located. It runs every 2.5 minutes from the Central stop.
Paradepl., 8001 Zürich, Switzerland
This square on the left bank of the Limmat serves as the very crux of the city, a must-visit for understanding the Zurich way of life in all its elegance and efficiency. It’s home to the headquarters of its largest banks (Credit Suisse takes up one side, UBS another), the iconic eateries Zeughauskeller and Sprungli, the luxe department store Grieder, and is a junction for most of the city’s tram lines. It’s also Swiss-style pretty—for most of the year, red and pink geraniums line the square in immaculate rows. Photo © Martin Rütschi/Zürich Tourism.
8001 Zürich, Switzerland
A stroll along the serene Limmatquai, the street along the right bank of the Limmat River from Central to Bellevue, will surely seduce any visitor to Zurich. It will take you past the city’s numerous bridges, Grossmünster Church, the stately Rathaus (Zurich’s city hall), and terrific spots to eat and drink. The 18th century guild house Zunfhaus zur Zimmerleuten serves fondue on sidewalk tables, while Grande brews the best coffee in town. Photo © Bruno Macor/FB/Zürich Tourismus.
12 Rindermarkt
The quaint, charming Rindermarkt is home to the Oepfelchammer, the city’s oldest preserved pub. It serves terrific local wines in an all-wood setting with patrons’ names carved into the walls.
Mühlebach, 8008 Zürich, Switzerland
Locals are fanatics about the lake. They boast the water is clean enough to drink; boating is a favorite pastime, whether it’s on a sailboat, paddleboat, yacht or public boat from the ZSG network (included in the cost of a daily tram card); and come summer, swimming in it, for many, is a daily activity in one of the city’s excellent badis. The tree-lined Utoquai and Arboretum at Enge offer excellent views, but the iconic spot for lake-gazing is at the Burkliterrasse, with its statue of Zeus and Ganymede and straight-shot view of the Alps. Photo © Elisabeth Real/Zürich Tourismus.
Bahnhofstrasse 21, 8001 Zürich, Switzerland
There are 14 outposts of the famed chocolate shop in and around town, but the one to go to is its flagship, which occupies a prime corner perch on Paradeplatz. There are gorgeous displays of Sprungli’s signature sweet, the Luxemburgerli, Lilliputian takes on the macaron; its exquisite line of truffles; and its dense, rich, uniquely shaped Truffe cake—quite possibly the best chocolate cake ever. Don’t miss its gorgeous second-floor café.
17 Geroldstrasse
Swiss film school grad Rolf Hellat’s straw hats and caps, like the fedora-shaped Singapore Sling, have acquired a certain cachet (as testament, they’re sold at Opening Ceremony in New York City). His first store—a minuscule blink-and-you’ll-miss-it gem—opened next-door to Freitag in 2012.
Viaduktstrasse 65, 8005 Zürich, Switzerland
The striking Im Viadukt opened in 2010 beneath century-old stone arches with Zurich’s first permanent covered market and 50 vendors. At Berg und Tal, owners Simon Rietschin and Daniel Rufli stock their food shop with items sourced mostly from within Switzerland and purchased directly from the producer, from sausages to the more unexpected, like Lindenblüten teas from the Swiss mountainside and absinthe made from angelica and grande wormwood from Val-de-Tavers. The wine shop Südhang sells small production bottlings including those made with grapes grown around Zurich, and Tritt-Käse specializes in local raw milk cheeses. Photo © Ralph Hut/Im Viadukt.
Rämistrasse 4, 8001 Zürich, Switzerland
Open since 1924, Zurich’s most esteemed classic restaurant exudes wealth—mahogany wood paneling, glittering chandeliers—and patrons would need a lot of it to dine here, too. (The veal steak with morel sauce and spätzli, a favorite, is an eye-watering 68 Swiss francs.) But some say the museum-quality art collection—with works by Picasso, Chagall, Matisse, Mirò and Braque—make dining here well worth the splurge.
Seestrasse 395, 8038 Zürich, Switzerland
This silk mill turned cultural center on Lake Zurich’s left bank hosts over a hundred concerts, parties and festivals a year and is home to 60 art studios. It’s also a popular bar, especially come summer, when locals flock to the communal outdoor tables steps from the water’s edge (a favorite place to sit is in one of the handful of old-school ski lifts for prime views of the Alps). The setting is colorful and edgy—graffiti everywhere, plants shooting out from clawfoot bathtubs—a rarity so far from Kreis 4 and 5. Photo © Christian Beutler/Zürich Tourismus.
24 Gasometerstrasse
This Josefstrasse mainstay serving delicious, imaginative tapas-sized dishes is more appropriate as a prelude to a big night out than a quiet romantic dinner: the hipstery crowd surrounding the bar usually spills out the door on warm evenings. Photo © Maurice Haas/Josef.
Stadthausquai 12, 8001 Zürich, Switzerland
Situated on the left bank of the Limmat River in the Old Town, this is the badi to go to if you want to swim with a postcard-worthy backdrop (Grossmünster Church is diagonally across). In the daytime, it’s women-only in the Art Deco bathhouse; come evening, it transforms into the beautifully lit Barfussbar, which welcomes a mixed crowd.
Badweg 10, 8001 Zürich, Switzerland
A midsummer night’s fantasy—Zurich-style. Tucked away near the stock exchange, the city’s oldest badi, the men-only Männerbad Schanzengraben, transforms into the popular Rimini Bar come evening. The scene is surreal: a mixed crowd mingling along the edges of the pool, a shooting fountain, technicolor lights—all surrounded by the ivy-covered old city wall. On Monday evenings, local fashion designers add to the mix by showcasing their creations.
Spiegelgasse 1, 8001 Zürich, Switzerland
Hugo Ball read the Dada Manifesto at this Altstadt cabaret in 1916, and an art movement was born. After extensive repairs, Dada’s birthplace reopened in 2004 with a bar along with exhibitions, readings, and a small lending library that pays homage to its historic past.
8 Höschgasse
The Swiss-born modernist giant was many things: architect, painter, sculptor, graphic artist, furniture designer, and writer. This museum, also known as the Centre Le Corbusier, is located in the Zürichhorn park, and offers a chance to view examples of his work across all these realms—the most striking of which is the building itself, Le Corbusier’s last, a steel-and-glass masterpiece marked by multicolored enameled panels.
Talstrasse 1, 8001 Zürich, Switzerland
This esteemed, five-star hotel, set in its own park overlooking Lake Zurich and the Alps, has a remarkable history. Opened in 1844 by Johannes Baur, the property hosted the world premiere of Wagner’s Die Walküre (Wagner himself performed), and Alfred Nobel’s former secretary, Bertha von Suttner, came up with the idea for the Nobel Peace Prize in one of the hotel’s salons.

The 119 rooms are individually decorated with styles ranging from Art Deco to French Louis XVI and English regency, but all feature exclusive fabrics and furnishings from Europe, plus marble bathrooms with heated floors. The amenities are many, from valet parking and on-demand, chauffeured limousines to a round-the-clock concierge and even car-repair and flower-purchasing services.

There are two renowned restaurants on-site, along with an inviting bar and an idyllic garden.
7 Rennweg
Built on the site of Roman and Celtic ruins, the unassuming 5-star Widder Hotel comprises nine medieval townhouses that were painstakingly renovated over a 10-year period by Swiss architect Tilla Theus. The results are jaw-dropping, from the unusual structures such as circular rooms and passages that refer architecturally to a Roman well uncovered during construction, to the mix of antiques and modern designer furnishings (Eames, Frank Lloyd Wright) in the rooms.

Alongside the 35 standard rooms, 14 suites also mix the old with the new, featuring works of art by the likes of Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol, contemporary design classics by Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe, and original medieval frescoes, exposed-beam ceilings, and brick or stone walls. All rooms are equipped with a TV, Quadriga communication system, and two telephones.

Widder Hotel also features three great restaurants, a bar with more than 1,000 spirits, and a cozy garden restaurant and lounge open in the warmer months.
More from AFAR
Sign up for our newsletter
Join more than a million of the world’s best travelers. Subscribe to the Daily Wander newsletter.
AFAR Journeys
Journeys: Europe
Journeys: Europe
Journeys: Europe
Journeys: Europe
Journeys: United States
Journeys: Sports + Adventure